The Healing Power of Food and Friends

In the aftermath of a divorce or loss it is tempting to retreat from the world in order to hide one’s sorrow from our friends and family. And after a separation, a couple’s friends tend to split up according to their loyalties.

“In my case, my ex-spouse kept the house and business, and since most of our friends were also industry associates they have gravitated to him, and I stopped seeing or hearing from friends just when I needed comfort the most,” says Marta in San Francisco, California (US). “Fortunately a few acquaintances had decided to start a monthly dinner group. They insisted I attend, and although I was reluctant at first, I am very glad I did. I have met some interesting people, been offered wonderful opportunities, and I had the chance to unload some woes on kind ears.”

Cooking and sharing meals as a form of emotional communion is a two-way street; it benefits both the giver and receiver. People enjoy turning to food as a way to connect with friends and neighbors after a divorce, separation or loss. One does not need to be an accomplished cook to use food as a healing connection—even sharing a simple meal of take-out Chinese can be therapeutic.

But if you can cook—or you have always wanted to learn how—conjuring up a warm meal can be very healing because it fills a void; because it employs the mind; and because it is a way of recreating past memories and experiences.

Linda in Brooklyn, New York (US) says, “I was awake at 3:00 in the morning trying to be with my grief when I turned on the television and saw an old rerun of Julia Child. I have been obsessed ever since. I’ve always found baking to be very meditative and calming. I enjoyed being able to create happiness for myself and my friends, and have a focus.”

Abby in Exton, Pennsylvania (US) said, “Everyone thought I was nuts, but were it not for the ritual of weighing ingredients, creaming butter with sugar, cutting parchment paper, and hovering near the oven to make sure I turned things around halfway through, I would have had a nervous breakdown.”

Irma Rombauer self-published the first Joy of Cooking in 1931 with the small insurance payout she received after her husband committed suicide during the Great Depression.

In her book, Spoon Fed: How Eight Cooks Saved My Life, New York Times food writer Kim Severson reveals her professional and personal struggles, which included failed relationships and alcohol addiction.   The only thing she could always rely on was her “ability to go to the kitchen, turn on the stove and feed someone.”

Even if you are a hopeless cook, allowing your friends to feed you can be a boon for them as well. It lets them offer support and sympathy without being intrusive, and it reassures them that you are going to be all right.

Ken in Seattle, Washington (US) says, “We’ve kept our friend going. I don’t think he’d eat anything at all if it weren’t for dinners at our place. That’s how we knew there was something wrong, in fact—we hadn’t seen either of them in a while and then he showed up at our door, alarmingly thin. Making sure he gets fed has been good for all three of us.”

In her book The Relaxed Kitchen, author Brigit Binns talks about discovering that her husband was cheating on her, her subsequent flight (literally and emotionally) from Spain to Los Angeles, and the difficulty of starting a new life in a strange place, alone. “I attacked the chore of fitting into a culture I’d left behind ten years before. Bagged salad greens and cordless phones seemed like magic. I hadn’t been on a date in ten years.” Binns set about turning her back patio, a simple concrete block and cement space, into a shady venue surrounded by potted bougainvillea and tomatoes where she could entertain and cook for friends.

But one need not be a gourmet cook to enjoy the preparation and communion of food. Keep the menu simple. Choose dishes that can be prepared well ahead of time and served cold, or gently warmed. Buy prepared dishes from the market to supplement one or two homemade dishes. Then relax and enjoy the company of your friends. And remember, they need you as much as you need them.


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